Plugin Electric Vehicles Get 21% Share of Auto Market in Another Record Month in China

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Half a million plugin electric vehicle sales! In one month!

Plugin vehicles in China once again ended the year with a record month, growing by 125% year over year (YoY) in the last month of the year, to a record 502,000 units. Full electric vehicles (BEVs) were responsible for 83% of the plugin market in December, slightly above the 81% average in 2021.

Last month, plugin share reached a record 21% (17% BEV), pulling the 2021 share to 15% (12% BEV). That more than doubled the 2020 result of 6.3% (5.1% BEV).

Looking at 2022, with low subsidies in a strong, dynamic market, organic demand is what is pulling the market up, so expect disruption to fully unfold in 2022 … in the largest automotive market in the world.

Local analysts expect this year to end at over 20% share, with the overall market merging further with the plugin segment. The plugin market actually brought some of its trends to the mainstream market in 2021, like the rise of domestic automakers in the overall market. Chinese automakers rose from 38% in 2020 to 44% in 2021, while in December, the two automakers with the highest growth rates among the 20 biggest brands were BYD (+78% YoY) and Tesla (+198%). Expect these two automakers to continue rising in the overall brand ranking in 2022.

Looking at December’s best sellers, there were no real surprises in the top 5, with the Wuling Mini EV winning another best seller title, followed by both Tesla midsizers and their BYD nemesis.

Here’s more on December’s top 5 best selling models:

#1 — Wuling HongGuang Mini EV

A big name for a small car, the Wuling EV scored a record 55,742 registrations last month. Expect the tiny four-seater to continue on the podium throughout 2022, as it is one of the cheapest EVs on the market. The SAIC–GM–Wuling joint-venture model has created its own vehicle class (4 seats in a car that is only a tad larger than a Smart Fortwo EV). This EV is a game changer in China, having been the overall best seller in China in December and the 2nd best selling vehicle in the whole of 2021 in China. The tiny EV now has direct competitors popping up from many competing brands.

#2 — Tesla Model Y

The youngest member in the Tesla family hit a record 40,194 registrations last month, allowing it to be 4th in the overall auto market. Looking at next year’s sales performance, expect it to continue growing throughout the year, possibly ending somewhere between 225,000 and 255,000 units, with the bulk of growth coming from the RWD version.

#3 — Tesla Model 3

The poster child for electric mobility hit a record 29,967 units last month, a new record, which allowed it to be #8 in the overall auto market, thus making it three EVs in the overall top 10. Looking at the whole year sales performance, deliveries were up 8% compared to the previous year. Expect the 2022 performance to remain more or less at the current numbers, with numbers ending somewhere between 150,000 and 170,000 by year end.

#4 — BYD Qin Plus PHEV (& BEV)

BYD’s bread and butter model registered 17,286 units in December, and if we were to add the BEV version to the tally (#18 with 7,001 units), we would get 24,287 units, which would keep it in 4th. If we compare the monthly average in the 4th quarter (26,115 units) with those of the Model 3 (13,001 units) and Model Y (25,538 units), the BYD midsizer actually outsold both Teslas in the last quarter of the year…. One of the most competitive domestic EVs on the market, the BYD sedan is now a regular in this top 5, thanks to competitive pricing and specs. It is quite possibly the first model able to go head to head, sales wise, with the Tesla midsizers.

#5 — BYD Song Pro/Plus PHEV (& BEV)

Compared to its lower riding Qin Plus sibling, the SUV model still has some way to go in order to run with its Tesla counterpart, the Model Y, but with a record 15,120 registrations last month, its ramp-up is still in motion. If we add the BEV numbers to the tally, we get 19,172 registrations, which is already more than the Tesla Model 3 quarterly average (13,001) and not that far from the Model Y average (25,538). Will we see the Song repeat the success of the Qin Plus? I guess we will have the whole year of 2022 to answer that question, but one thing is certain, it won’t be as easy for it to catch the Model Y as it was for the Qin Plus to reach the Model 3’s sales levels.

Looking at the remaining best sellers table in December, in a record month it would be natural that several models hit best ever scores, and so they did. With 14 models in this top 20 reaching record scores, besides the ones already mentioned, we should also highlight the #6 Li Xiang One yacht large SUV. Consolidating its status as the most successful model coming from a local EV startup, it had 14,087 registrations. The #7 Great Wall Ora Good Car (10,685 registrations) also deserves a callout, with the compact model proving to be a success in its home market before venturing into overseas markets later this year. In #8 we have the Volkswagen ID.4, with 10,580 registrations. The German model continued its ramp-up in China, helpful at what is truly a crucial time for Volkswagen in this market. If they want to continue to be one of the major OEMs in China, they need to become one of the electrification leaders, and for that to happen, the ID.4 (and ID.3, ID.6, etc.) need to run with the best in their categories. In the case of the compact crossover, that means getting close to the Model Y and its 26,000 units/month average. Will it get there? That’s one of the million-dollar questions for 2022.

Elsewhere, BYD had another strong month. Besides the Song, four other BYDs in the top 20 had record scores. The Yuan compact crossover had a record 8,577 registrations, the Tang PHEV full-size SUV had 8,700 registrations, while the compact Dolphin continues to ramp up production, hitting 10,016 units in December. The flagship Han EV also hit a record score, with 10,301 registrations, and if we were to add the PHEV version to the tally (record 3,400 units), the total tally would be 13,701 units. Regardless of that, the truth is that we had 4 BYD models hitting 5-digit scores last month, which says a lot about the quality and depth of BYD’s lineup.

A reference also goes out to the surprise appearance of the Chery QQ Ice Cream, in #15, with the Wuling Mini EV-lookalike getting 8,390 registrations in only its second month on the market. Expect it to reach the top 10 soon and become the automaker’s best seller. Meanwhile, the #20 GAC Aion Y is here to prove that MPVs are still alive. With a record 6,020 units, the compact model was close to outrunning the brand’s bread and butter model, the Aion S sedan, which was #19 last month and sold only 400 more units than the Aion MPV.

Outside the top 20, the biggest surprise was the 5,294 units of the Hongqi E-QM5, a large sedan. Will the luxury model become a surprise success this year? To be continued…. But still on the topic of Chinese luxury EVs, we should also mention Dongfeng’s new luxury brand, Voyah, which saw the EREV version of its attractive Free full-size SUV reach a record 2,758 registrations. We might have another worthy competitor here to look out for, and the same can be said about Geely’s own luxury EV brand, Zeekr. It saw its 001 full size model reach 3,796 registrations in only its second month on the market. Furthermore, startup LeapMotor had its handsome C11 sports SUV score a record 2,467 units last month, an encouraging result, especially now that the rumor mill is saying that this C11 will reach European shores in late 2022. (By the way, the same is being said about the Zeekr 001, which might arrive here under the Lynk & Co moniker.)

In the EV startup chapter, we should also mention the record 4,847 units of Hozon’s Neta U, with the compact crossover close to reaching the same sales levels of its smaller and cheaper sibling, the Neta V (5,280 units). XPeng is busy ramping up its own take on the Tesla Model 3 formula, the P5, having reached 5,030 registrations already in December. Expect it to surpass the sales numbers of XPeng’s flagship model, the P7, soon.

Looking at the 2021 ranking, the Wuling Mini EV is the 2021 Best Seller, with over 200,000 units over the runner-up, the Tesla Model Y. The Tesla crossover surpassed its older brother Model 3 in the last stages of the 2021 race, putting two Teslas on the podium.

But BYD also had reasons to open the champagne, because the #4 BYD Qin Plus PHEV took the Best Selling PHEV prize home, and if we were to add both the PHEV and BEV versions together, the midsizer would actually be 3rd in the table. Its 168,000 units would be more than enough to beat the Tesla Model 3, and would almost steal the silver medal from the Tesla Model Y. The BYD Han EV was #6, with some 87,000 registrations, and adding the PHEV version to the tally, the big BYD would have enough units to beat the #5 Li Xiang One and become the full size category best seller, which had some 108,000 units. Yes, full size plugins are already scoring 6-digit scores on a yearly basis. Hear that, Mercedes? That EQE needs to be sold by the boatloads if the German model wants to remain king of this category.

Still on the topic of BYD, the Shenzhen automaker had three other models in the table, with the Qin Plus EV in #14, the Tang PHEV in #18, and the compact Yuan EV joining the table in #20 in the last stage of the race. That makes 6 BYDs in the top 20!

Elsewhere, Great Wall’s Ora Black Cat was up to #11, while the bigger Good Cat also ended on a positive note, rising to #15. XPeng’s P7 climbed to #12.

Finally, the Volkswagen ID.4 ended the year climbing to #17, and one wonders where the German crossover will be a year from now. Top 10? Top 5?

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, while in 2020 the SGMW joint venture (14%, down 1 percentage point) broke a 6 year BYD winning streak (18%), in 2021 all went back to normal. BYD (18%) won its 8th title comfortably, while SGMW ended in 2nd (14%, down 1 point), followed by Tesla securing the last place on the podium (10%, up 1 point).

Below the podium, SAIC (5%, down 1% share) won the 4th spot with some ease, overcoming #5 Great Wall, #6 GAC, and #7 Volkswagen, each with 4%.

By automotive group, the big winner was again Shanghai Auto (SAIC), with 19%, but it was close, as BYD (18%) wasn’t that far off, and I sense that if this race had an extra stage/month, the Shenzhen automaker would be able to surpass SAIC.

Below these two, Tesla (10%) took bronze, with a comfortable advantage over #4 Volkswagen Group (4%). Interestingly, these two automakers ended in the same positions in 2020, with the difference being that Tesla ended with 11% share and Volkswagen Group had 6% share. That means that both lost share in 2021, with the case of the German conglomerate being more concerning, because instead of closing the difference over the US brand, the gap has actually increased, from a 5 percentage point difference to a 6 point difference. And in 2022? How will it go?

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José Pontes

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.

José Pontes has 479 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes